Fathers’ Day in the U.S. will be celebrated this next Sunday. I have thought a lot about my reaction to the idea of God as father. Where does my struggle with God as Father come from? It occurred to me as I basked in the images of the loving, caring, generous father that my struggle begins not with the patriarchal images that we often get hung up on, but with the expulsion from the garden of Eden. How could this possibly be the action of a loving, caring God I have often thought? More like the angry, violent parent I grew up with.
So today I want to do something that you might think a little strange. I am going to reimagine this narrative from the perspective of what I think a loving parent would do and why.
God the mother gave birth to humankind and God the father went out and built a home for his children to live – a beautiful garden dwelling that we call the Garden of Eden. In this wonderful protective environment men and women grew up, walking and playing with God the father and mother in the evenings. All their needs for shelter and food were met by God who hovered around them like a good protective parent. They had a few chores to perform but no responsibility to work for their own provision.
Then they grew up and into the rebellious teenage years when they started to look around and realize that there was a great big world outside the garden that they wanted to explore. In this world, their protective father warned them, there was both good and evil. It is a world, he told them, in which they would now have to toil for their own food and work hard to provide for themselves and their own children. But humankind did not listen. They no longer wanted to be protected from the big bad world, they wanted to find their own way.
So God let them go. God the father sent them away from home out into the world where they would have to fend for themselves. He had given them a good education in how to till the soil and make it flourish but only he knew how much work this involved. Mother God sewed clothes, gave them food and sent them on their way, knowing that life would not be easy for them and that hardship and anguish lay ahead.
God knew his kids would mess up – fighting and killing each other, oppressing and enslaving each other, show greed, prejudice, hatred. He knew he would have to continue watching over them rescuing them as a good father would when they got into trouble, healing them as a loving mother when they got hurt and providing for them when they used up all their resources. But God loved them and knew that for them to come to full maturity they needed to take responsibility for their own actions. To find wholeness and be able to embrace eternal life as God wanted them too he needed to let them go and allow them to make mistakes. He knew that only in this way would they really become mature adults.
I think that it is this kind of narrative that is hidden in the parables and miracles of Jesus:
God the father is the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to find the one who has gone astray is God our father tirelessly following the most wayward of his sheep.
God the father is Jesus reaching out to heal the only son of a widow who has been ostracized by her society and has no means of provision or protection without him.
God the father is Jesus sitting on the mountain distributing 2 fish and 5 loaves to feed 5,000 because he wants to remind us of the generosity of good parents.
God the Father, is the father who welcomes home all prodigal sons and daughters who have strayed, used up their money, become homeless, turned to drugs, or committed criminal acts and finally recognize that father together with God the mother, really does know best and will still provide a safe haven.
God our Father longs for us to come back home, and at great cost to himself, He has even set up a a well lit pathway – Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life – to guide us.
For me personally, thinking about this imagery of a loving father protecting, providing for and guiding his children together with images of God the mother working together, is both renewing and healing. What do you think?
This is part of my series on God as Father. You may like to check out the full series:
And for those who want to balance this with maternal images of God check out my posts related to Mother’s day: